Diabetes Self-Management Blog

This is kind of amazing. Did you know that how your body uses food depends partly on how much you like the food? Eating food that tastes good and that has a pleasing appearance can help your body react to the food in healthier ways. So cooking and eating attractive, tasty food will reward you with both pleasure and health.

Don’t believe me? Read on. In March, blogger Jan Chait wrote about a program called Health at Every Size (HAES). So I bought a book on the HAES philosophy, written by researcher Linda Bacon, PhD. Turns out Dr. Bacon teaches at City College of San Francisco, a 10-minute bus ride from my apartment, so we’ve been in touch.

In her book, Dr. Bacon reports on a study of Thai women. The women were fed a meal consisting of Thai vegetables, rice, and spices. Later they received the same food, but this time it had been mashed together in a blender. The women absorbed 70% less iron from the less attractive, less tasty, blended food. (In case you’re wondering why researchers did this, iron absorption is a big issue in poor countries where anemia is common. Scientists do a lot of research on what helps and hinders iron absorption.)

And in his book, The Gospel of Food, Barry Glassner, PhD, reports that when researchers prepared a Thai vegetable dish and served it to two groups of women, one Swedish and one Thai, the Thai women absorbed much more iron than the Swedes. Then they put the shoe on the other food, serving a traditional Swedish meal to both groups. This time, the Swedes absorbed more iron.

Glassner also points to the “French Paradox”: The French eat lots of high-fat food that would be considered unhealthy in North America. But their rates of heart disease are a bit lower, and their life expectancies are longer. He asks if the pleasure the French take in their food makes the difference. Americans tend to associate food with worries about health, not with pleasure. Glassner — along with others like David Sobel, MD, and Robert Ornstein, PhD, in their book Healthy Pleasures, — cites numerous studies to show that enjoying food is a pathway to health.

Who Decides What Tastes Good?
Dr. Bacon points out that our taste buds are trained to like the things they like. The Swedes like Swedish food and the Thais like Thai food because that’s what they’re used to. Food companies are aware of this training. They put the same artificial flavors (think high-fructose corn syrup) in many products. Soon, consumers’ taste buds think those flavors taste the best. But according to Bacon, taste buds can be retrained to like different things. It may take a few repetitions, but people can learn to like new foods, unless there is an emotional block against them.

What about sugars and fats? Those nearly always taste good, so if we’re going for flavor, we might wind up with a lot of calories, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrate. Well, that is a risk, but there are other flavors that you might like as well or better, if you give them a try.

Wikipedia gives a list of over 200 seasonings, most of which I’ve never heard of. But my local health food store has at least half of them. The cooking site Allrecipes.com has dozens of dishes you can cook using each of 17 different herbs. (They’ve not analyzed the recipes for calories, carbohydrate, or other nutrition information, however.)

You can also consider cooking classes or trading recipes with friends. This is a good activity for a diabetes support group. Free online cooking classes are available at About.com.

More Pleasure = Less Consumption
Heavy people often tell me they enjoy food too much. But from what I see, they don’t enjoy it enough. When people feel guilty about eating, or when they’re stressed, they tend to eat too fast. They don’t really taste what they’re eating after the first bite. They’re not really enjoying it, so they eat more than they need.

Feeling satisfied isn’t just about being full. It’s also about getting enough pleasure. If you eat enjoyable foods, and if you take your time eating them, you will probably need less to feel satisfied. Of course, you still need to eat enough to cover your insulin if you’ve already taken a dose, but you won’t be driven to eat more than you need.

Linda Bacon says that eating in a relaxed, pleasant environment helps people eat better. Try to make eating a pleasure — take the time to sit down, pay attention to your food, and enjoy it! Don’t mix TV, work, arguing with your spouse, worrying about money, or playing Sudoku with eating.

Next week, I want to get more into tips for enjoyable cooking and eating and for learning to like new things. Help me out here. What have been your experiences with enjoying food? What tips do you have for making eating more of a pleasure and less of a stress test?

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Comments
  1. One word, planning! If you plan meals you really enjoy and plan time to sit down and eat it, that meal becomes a much more satisfying experience. Not everybody can, or even wishes to cook all meals, but if they are left to chance, overall enjoyment will not be as great. That is doubly true if you allow your sugars to go too low and/ or are starving when you sit down to eat. Eating on the run, on the phone, in front of the computer or in your car will not make your dining experience a good one.

    Posted by Sarah |
  2. Great advice, David. I have lived alone for a number of years, which poses its own eating challenges. However, I make it a rule to set the table - placemat, or tablecloth and cloth napkin, candles if I feel like it, and treat myself as well as I would any guest who is dining with me. I don’t own a microwave, to avoid the temptation of throwing some prepared something or other into the microwave, and not physically handling the food I am going to eat. I think a lot of it is about attention and intention.

    Posted by Katherine |
  3. I think the “Engine 2 Diet” would be helpful for diabetics. I just reviewed the book:

    http://tiny.cc/engine2

    It was developed by firegighters in Texas, ho were overweight with high cholesterol. No dairy, or meat, or sugar — plant-based diet.
    Go direct to blog: http://www.Vaboomer.com (the blog for baby boomers)

    Posted by Nancy Mehegan |
  4. Dear David.

    This is worth an experiment. I could take my favorite Breyer’s ice cream in a reasonably small amount and add some chopped smoked almonds from Costco. This would be a pure joy food. If the purpose of eating is endorphins and we overeat because of the pleasure factor than this should be a diet food. and the total calorie content eaten should be less than “normal” food. The body going ape over loss of nutrients should not be a factor for a few days. I can survive quite well on the basal insulin only to take that out of the equation. I wonder what the body would think of 6 portions of 300 calories each. Can add metamucil and rabbit food to compensated for the lack of bulk.

    Posted by CalgaryDiabetic |
  5. CD, this is not a ridiculous idea. What you said about food raising endorphins is true. Six servings a day sounds like a bit much — but what do I know? — but I think that, if you really take the time to enjoy it and savor it, you might find the ice cream/almond treat a worthy addition to your diet. I don’t know if Amy would agree, but maybe as an experiment in pleasure?

    Posted by David Spero RN |
  6. I BELIEVE THIS DIET HAS SOME MERIT AND THINK C.D. IS MISSING THE POINT HERE- IF YOU TAKE THE TIME TO ENJOY AND SAVOR WHATEVER YOU ARE EATING, YOU WILL GET MORE SATISFACTION FROM IT AND BE LESS LIKELY TO EAT TOO MUCH. YOU WON’T NEED 6 REGULAR SIZED SERVINGS TO FEEL SATED! I ALREADY AM A SLOW EATER, AS OPPOSED TO MY HUSBAND WHO PRACTICALLY “INHALES” HIS MEALS, AND I BELIEVE I GET MUCH MORE ENJOYMENT FROM MY FOOD THAN HE DOES! THE MAIN REASON I ENJOY COOKING IS BECAUSE I SAVOR THE FLAVORS AND TEXTURES WHILE I AM EATING IT. HUBBY BASICALLY EATS BECAUSE HE IS HUNGRY!

    Posted by PAMIG |
  7. “When you’re hungry, eat a little.” I had always lived with this motto because it works perfectly for me. Too much food intake at one time can burst your stomach out! We don’t really need to be full when we hunger. A little each time plus a complete information on healthy foods would suffice…

    Posted by Perfect Solution for Diabetics |

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